New Music Reviews: March 2021 Releases

New Music Reviews: March 2021 Releases

Click HERE to listen to all of these albums.

Artist: Gaither Vocal Band
Album Title: That’s Gospel, Brother
Song Titles: There Is A Mountain; That’s Gospel, Brother; My Feet Are On The Rock; I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen; Out Of Bondage; How Beautiful Heaven Must Be; The Way (New Horizon); Two Prayers (Father Dear); You Don’t Knock (You Just Walk On In); Lord, Save Us; Moses, Take Your Shoes Off; Here I Stand
Release Date: March 19, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

Summary: The Gaither Vocal Band offers a variety of styles on That’s Gospel, Brother with a total of twelve songs on the CD/digital versions and eighteen songs on the DVD. This review is based on the YouTube Music version which includes ten audio-only tracks from the CD and two live videos from the DVD (“I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen” and “The Way”).

Highlights include Wes Hampton’s moving take on “Two Prayers (Father Dear)” and the toe-tapping “You Don’t Knock (You Just Walk On In) featuring Reggie Smith. “There Is A Mountain” was first recorded by the GVB in 1990 with Michael English, Mark Lowry, and Jim Murray. This time around, the song gets a refreshing setting with some banjo adding a bluegrass touch.

Adam Crabb and Todd Suttles swap off on the melody on “Moses, Take Your Shoes Off.” The smooth jazz tones of “Lord, Save Us” contrasted with the traditional rhythms of tracks like “I Just Feel Like Something Good Is About To Happen” demonstrates how the Gaither Vocal Band can tackle virtually any style of music and deliver a pleasing result. The classic orchestrated piece “Here I Stand” features some nice vocal harmonies. Bill Gaither only has a few step-out lines and a short recitation on the album. He appears content to let the younger guys do their thing as long as a couple of his classic songs are included.

I tend to prefer albums with more consistency of style throughout, but the versatility of the Gaither Vocal Band is impressive. This particular line-up of the GVB may not pack the star power of versions that have existed in the past, but they’re all excellent communicators, not only when one man is featured, but also when filling their respective roles in the group setting.


Artist: Harry Connick, Jr.
Album Title: Alone With My Faith
Song Titles: Alone With My Faith; Because He Lives; Be Not Afraid; Benevolent Man; Amazing Grace; The Old Rugged Cross; How Great Thou Art; God And My Gospel; Old Time Religion; All These Miracles; Look Who I Found; Thank You For Waiting (For Me); Panis Angelicus
Release Date: February 12, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 4 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

Summary: During the COVID pandemic, Harry Connick, Jr. retreated to his home studio where he recorded every instrument and sang every song for his new album, Alone With My Faith. This collection includes several familiar hymns like “Because He Lives,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “How Great Thou Art,” and “Old Time Religion” with new songs written by Connick, Jr. fleshing out the rest of the album. C├ęsar Franck’s “Panis Angelicus” rendered in the traditional Latin with pipe organ accompaniment appears at the end of the recording.

Connick, Jr. throws so many unexpected chords, rhythms, and instrument combinations together that most listeners won’t be willing to invest the time to appreciate it. (Granted, some lack the ability.) That’s not to say Alone With My Faith may be a misunderstood masterpiece. Some arrangements sound downright sloppy and others are just weird, but none of this is by accident. It’s all Connick, Jr.’s intent.

The lazy blues take on “How Great Thou Art” is one example, but an even better example is “Because He Lives.” For the latter, Connick, Jr. has created the effect of a group of musicians learning a song for the first time. As the song progresses, “they” start to find “their” way but “they” never quite gel. (There is no actual “they.” Connick, Jr. is playing all the instruments.) It’s almost like the Statler Brothers’ Cadillac Cowboys material, except Connick, Jr. isn’t going for a broad comedic effect here.

One of Connick, Jr’s more fascinating original pieces is “God And My Gospel.” There’s a touch of jazz, blues, and even an electric guitar solo. It all ends up in a gospel call-and-response style set over a country hoedown. “Look Who I Found” is an equally interesting journey, but this time there’s a cool bass rhythm throughout.

Alone With My Faith isn’t for everyone, but one thing everyone should agree on is that it’s certainly unique. Some fans may love it, but the average gospel music fan probably won’t care for it. Connick Jr’s gospel music isn’t the sort of gospel music we’re used to hearing, so it might be worth our time to at least consider it.


Artist: Sam Levine
Album Title: Smooth Inspiration
Song Titles: The Way; Way Maker; 10,000 Reasons; So Will I (100 Billion X); Greater Things; Good, Good Father; I Can Only Imagine; Hills And Valleys; Oceans (Where Feet May Fail); The Blessing; What A Beautiful Name; You Say
Release Date: March 19, 2021
Version Rated: YouTube Music
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)

Summary: Sam Levine is a saxophone player whose name often appears in the album credits of other artists. Smooth Inspiration features Levine performing smooth jazz instrumental versions of twelve modern worship songs that have been introduced over the last 15 years or so.

The best cuts are arrangements like “Way Maker” where Levine’s sax lines are complemented by responses from an electric guitar. The tracks are polished and professional throughout.

If you are very familiar with these songs, you will enjoy this album more because you will instinctively think of the lyrics as you listen. The downside is that despite Levine’s best efforts to embellish the material, this recording becomes rather boring after two or three tracks. Comparisons to Kenny G are inevitable, but Kenny G was usually working with material that had more interesting melody lines…and even then, many people still thought Kenny G’s music was boring. For that reason, Smooth Inspiration is more useful as background music to be played softly while people are engaged in conversation than something an individual listener would want to focus on for 30-40 minutes.


Also Released In March
* Four albums from Mark Lowry’s early years (1970s and 1980s) were re-issued for the first time in CD/digital formats as well as a previously unreleased 1984 live album.
* The Collingsworth Family released an audio version of Mercy & Love: Live At Inspiration Encounter which was previously released in 2020 in DVD format.
* Tribute Quartet re-released their CD Quartet Tribute, Vol. 2 with new vocals by bass singer Ian Owens. (The digital version of the album on YouTube Music appears to be unchanged from the 2020 release, however.)

Gaither Vocal Band
4.5 out of 5
Harry Connick, Jr.
4 out of 5
Sam Levine
3.5 out of 5
Overall

Average rating of three albums reviewed:

4

Good
4 out of 5

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Category CD Reviews, Reviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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